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Europe tightens measures at epicentre of coronavirus outbreak

The number of new cases has dwindled in China, but the virus has in recent weeks spread exponentially in Europe.

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Mayor square in central Madrid (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Mayor square in central Madrid (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Mayor square in central Madrid (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Spain has declared a state of emergency and Italy is tightening its lockdown, while Denmark and Poland have become the latest countries to shut their borders to most travellers in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

China — where the virus first emerged late last year — is seeing new cases continue to dwindle, but Covid-19 has in recent weeks spread exponentially in Europe, the Middle East and North America.

By Saturday, more than 145,000 infections and over 5,400 deaths had been confirmed worldwide.

Europe has become the epicentre of the pandemic, with countries imposing a cascade of restrictions in efforts to prevent their health systems collapsing under the load of cases.

Schools, bars and shops not selling essential goods are among the facilities being closed in many places.

Spain’s cabinet met on Saturday to declare a two-week state of emergency and announce more restrictions to control the outbreak which has spiked sharply in recent days to more than 5,700 infections, with almost 3,000 in the capital Madrid. Spain had recorded 120 Covid-19 deaths.

Waiters shut up shop in Madrid
Waiters shut up shop in Madrid (Manu Fernandez/AP)

Spain’s measures fall far short of those ordered by Italy, the worst-hit European country, which has more than 17,600 confirmed cases — the largest outbreak after China — with 1,266 deaths.

The government in Rome has ordered an unprecedented lockdown, ordering businesses to close and restricting people’s movement.

Mayors of many cities, including Rome and Milan, have even closed public playgrounds and parks. Under a government decree issued earlier in the week, people had been allowed in parks as long as they kept at least a metre between each other.

A worker disinfects the area in front of the Centrale station in Milan
A worker disinfects the area in front of the Centrale station in Milan (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse/AP)

Premier Giuseppe Conte said production — particularly of food and health supplies — must not stop, and union and industrial leaders have reached an agreement on special measures to keep factories running.

Denmark closed its borders and halted passenger traffic to and from the country until April 13. Travellers will be turned away at the border if they are unable to show they have “a legitimate reason” to enter.

Poland is closing its borders and denying all foreigners entry unless they live in Poland or have personal ties there. Non-citizens allowed in will be quarantined for 14 days. The Czech Republic and Slovakia took similar action.

Russia said its land borders with Norway and Poland will be closed to most foreigners from Sunday.

PA